Easter message

Dear Easter People

I write this to you right in the middle of Holy Week, just before this sacred time crescendos into the two days that changed everything. Those two days – the day Jesus died and the day he was raised from the dead are the hinges upon which all life and history swing. Those two days have secured the implementation of God’s kingdom and the salvation of all who believe.

We have heard the story of Good Friday – how Jesus was crucified on an old rugged cross, dying for the sins of humans. Unfortunately, many of us have heard the story over and over again until it has lost its wallop. It is crucial for us of faith to hear it clearly – this is God who died, this is God who died so we might live. There is no other news that is as startling as the straightforward announcement of the death of God. There is no other news that is as personally jarring as the matter of fact statement that God’s death was for my redemption. Think about it. Do you believe this? Do you really believe this?

We have heard the story of Easter – how Jesus the Son was raised from the dead to life by God the Father. Again, most of us have heard this since our childhood, and have accordingly learned to categorize it neatly into our lives. We try many approaches to make this blend into our lives.

Resurrection? “Why yes, I believe, but I haven’t thought about it much lately.”

Resurrection? “Of course, but don’t bother me with it right now, since I have family coming and Easter dinner to fix.”

Resurrection? I sure hope so, but you can’t actually expect me to buy it hook, line and sinker, can you? After all, we’re educated adults.”

The basic problem is resurrection can not be accommodated into the natural flow of our lives. There is no “blending in” with resurrection. If it’s true, it changes everything. If it’s false, it changes everything. We do not have the option of taking God risen from the dead for granted. The risen God is to be worshipped. The risen God is to be enjoyed. The risen God is to be obeyed. The risen God is to be proclaimed. The risen God is to be our heart and soul and life.

I invite you to First Baptist Arlington this Easter Sunday to hear afresh the startling good news of the Savior risen and alive.

Easter Blessings, Pastor Jon

Why Do Bad Hurricanes Happen to Good People

Rabbi Harold Kushner’s classic book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, looks at the age old problem of evil. Let me borrow his title, and make it contemporary by bringing Hurricane Harvey into the mix. “Why DO bad hurricanes happen to good people?”

We all have times of questioning, complaining, doubting. Sometimes we bottle these feelings up, especially when it comes to matters of faith. We don’t want to look like we’re not trusting God.

Yet if we are ever to grow in our faith, we need to stretch, we need to push, we need to wrestle with the hard parts of life and faith. And evil is definitely hard.

With Charlottesville uncovering havoc in our society and in our souls, with the chaos in Washington threatening our whole world, and with Hurricane Harvey drenching and destroying Texas, the biggest questions loom in our minds. Where is God in all the mess around us?

Why do bad things happen? Why do they happen to me?

Folks have a million “why” questions. They always have. The Bible is full of these inquires. The book of Psalms is loaded with “whys?” Job asks why he is clobbered with all kinds of suffering. Even Jesus asks if it’s necessary to drink the cup he faces. Maybe the stories in the Bible show us that God is big enough to listen to our questions…and to handle our gripes and complaints. God is not going to zap us for getting honest with him.

I could give you a detailed personal testimony of all the times I have asked God “why.” Facing the problem of evil is one of the things that drove me away from Christian faith for a time in my life. I still ask God about it, but now I ask from within the framework of faith. So do I have a good answer for why bad hurricanes hit good people? My honest answer? No, I don’t understand why bad things happen in the world. But I will know someday.

Theologians and other smart people have developed good responses to the problem of evil, but all their responses have been incomplete. The most common explanation is “free will.” Basically that says when God created us, he created us as real, living, thinking and feeling human beings. He didn’t make us robots.  God wants us to love him not because he programmed it into us,  but because we choose to love him. We have free will, and can say “yes” to God, or we can reject him and say “no.”

We can use our free will to do great, creative, kind and loving things, but we can also use it to do bad things, like hurting, hating and destroying others. The white supremacy fever infecting our nation is a vivd reminder of this. The same hand that draws a cross can also twist it into a swastika.

Free will is not a complete response to why bad stuff happens. There are evils beyond those we humans cause. Natural disasters. Disease. Death. The Bible teaches that we live in a beautiful world that has had its pristine beauty broken by sin. God originally created a Garden. When evil came to Eden everything changed. All that was positive developed a negative side.

That’s why Christians come to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. He is the center of life changing redemption. He is the hope of the world. Christ is also the one who has the answers to life. He is the answer to evil. His death on the cross defeated it. His resurrection confirmed his victory over it.

I firmly believe that one day Christ will come and bring the kingdom of God to completion, revealed in all it’s glory. All questions will disappear. And the possibility exists that even before that great day, I will see him as I transition from here to heaven, and everything will be made clear. No longer will I question why bad hurricanes wipe away homes and lives, for I will be in the presence of the One who calmed the waves by saying, “Peace. Be still.”


You — YES, YOU — are welcome at First Baptist Arlington!

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Adele or Beyonce, or if you are like Pastor Jon who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion” — we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or come because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters … and we especially welcome you!

Somewhere in my journey I found this welcome message, have adapted it from time to time, and have always liked it. I believe it truly represents the attitude of First Baptist Arlington, and for that I give thanks to God. Come check us out as together we learn to follow Jesus. And just it case you didn’t get it you are really welcome here!


We like to join things. We join garden clubs and health clubs and the PTA and the AARP.  Americans are joiners. But we don’t join churches like people used to in the good old days.

Used to be everyone went to church. Now it’s different. We have become secularized. Or maybe a little bit lazy.

But those who really love Jesus are joining and supporting churches today. They are bucking the trend because they want to do God’s will.

Christians know their commitment is crucial to Christ’s work. They know their gifts are needed for the kingdom. They know that they are important to the Lord, and they are excited to use their gifts and talents for him.

Real Christians are ready to risk themselves in church relationships. They are willing to love other people in real and practical ways. They know it’s risky, because loving people invites hurt and disappointment. The only way to keep from getting hurt is not to love. But to stop loving is to stop living and growing. So being a disciple means making a commitment to others.

Followers of Christ join churches because they know their pocket book and billfold need to be committed to him. And they know the church needs their support. There’s no other organization on earth that has a more important mission and a worst way of financing it than the church.

And then real believers join a church because they know they need help in living Christianly. They know fellow members will help them and hold them accountable in living for Christ. And when this doesn’t happen, it probably means the whole church needs help in living Christianly. God is up to the task, if we are!

Finally Christians join a church just because it’s the right thing to do.

And what about you? What are you waiting for?


Spring is the season that helps me marvel. I am reminded of that each time I step out into the world and see the shocking, defiant beauty of daffodils asserting themselves against a dark brown carpet of withered grass, disintegrating leaves, and patches of bare ground. Continuing the brilliant crescendo of yellow, the forsythia broadcasts it’s wild, unruly, joyful presence with a gusto that is bursting with life affirming happiness. Marvelous! I am changed in the presence of such beauty.

May spring also be a time to marvel as I drink in the beauty of God.

The God who is even older than the universe and the debris of my leftover winter lawn.

The God who is all powerful and created my earth and formed the intricacy of a daffodil’s bulb and who marvels himself as it bursts into flower.

The God who who created the planets and placed them in their orbits and also allowed the forsythia its rampant freedom of bloom.

And to think that this God is my God!

My God because he first loved me.

My God because he prepared all the conditions for my emergence from the winter of separation and hibernation from all things holy and spiritual.

My God because he made me into a living, growing, thing of wonder, a child of his own.

My God because such miraculous transformation became possible because of his own grace, mercy and redemption.

My God because he came to me in my Jesus, my Christ.

I am changed in the presence of such a fusion of eternal life. May I never cease to drink in the beauty of the One who graced me. May I always marvel in awe and thankfulness before my Savior, whatever the season of the year, or the season of my life.

The Enigma of Easter

Most of us have heard the Easter story so many multiples of times that there is no way we can be shocked like those close to him that first Easter.

In spite of everything the disciples had seen Jesus do from healing the sick to feeding a hungry crowd in spite of what they heard Jesus say about how he will be killed  and how on the third day he would be raised.  Not one of the disciples expected to see him alive.  Not one of them had any hope.

Where were the macho men who had followed Jesus for three years? Hiding, in fear for their lives. Their faith and their dreams crushed.

It was the women who went to the tomb that Sunday morning. They didn’t go to see if Jesus had risen. They went to the graveyard to finish the work of burying him.

The women see someone — an angel — who tells them Jesus has been raised.   He tells them to go out and tell the others. Tell them soon they will see Jesus themselves.  The story ends with them running away in panic,  terrorized by what they had seen. Dead men stay dead.

No one was expecting resurrection. Old Testament prophecies of the resurrection. Jesus’ own teaching. The disciples just plain missed it.  They only got it after they saw Jesus alive again.

The very Word of God became alive and significant only after they had seen the risen Christ.

The written Word becomes really alive for us only after we meet the living Jesus. Otherwise, it’s just an old book covered with dust lying on a bookshelf underneath the LL Bean catalog and grocery ads.

The old book is a book of don’t do this and don’t do that until we meet the one who says – hey you — do come and follow me.

They were not expecting resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection, or their own. That’s clear from this story. What about you?

Elephants, Donkeys and The Lamb

I suspect many in our church family share my fears, frustrations and fatigue with the circus of an election we are facing. It has been a degrading and embarrassing experience just to be a potential voter. I would have dismissed the whole thing long ago as nothing more than a reality show gone wild, except the sad reality is that one of the two flawed candidates will become the president of the most powerful nation the world has ever known.

A wide range of political diversity exists in our church. My goal as your pastor is to preach and live the gospel of Jesus Christ, as we join together in discovering how we can follow Jesus in today’s complicated world. There is no way I would ever trade that choice calling to become a political preacher of either the left or right. While donkeys and elephants may have a certain pull, I personally have committed my life to belong to the party of the Lamb.

There are, however, in this election huge ethical and moral consequences that have nothing to do with partisan politics. As bizarre as this election has been, there are real issues and real people’s lives are on the line. Jesus had strong opinions about how we are to live. Do I completely understand what Jesus says, or do I know how to practice living his way in my own life? Not entirely — but I’m trying, and I believe it would be a better world if everybody knew Jesus and lived the way he taught. Here’s what I think is up for grabs as we approach next Tuesday.

Jesus was in the healing business. He didn’t care if sick people had insurance or not, he just healed them. Jesus opened closed eyes, made weak bodies strong, and brought warmth to cold hearts. He did this for everyone who came to him with their need.

While we can not heal in the same way Jesus did, God has provided us with the miracle of medicine. In the United States every year 20,000 to 45,000 people die because they can’t get health care. The biggest culprit is lack of insurance. As an evangelical Christian I am committed to seeing that more people find healing for their bodies, as well as their souls. I dare not sin against God by turning folks away.

Please turn in your bibles to the place where Jesus discriminated against someone. Can’t find the chapter and verse? Neither can I. Jesus included everybody, even though he lived in a world that discriminated against women, the poor, children and minorities.

One of the underlying dynamics of the current election cycle is racism. We are polite (most of us) and phrase it in socially acceptable ways, but there is an ongoing push against the progress in race relations that has been made since American Baptist pastor Martin Luther King, Jr. dared voice his dream for our country. The new resistance itself has been given tacit approval in the fury of campaign speeches and rallies. It is directed not only along the black and white divide, but also against immigrants, Muslims, gays, lesbians, and those in the other political party. It seems like we have have been given license to hate whatever group is different than us. Now really, Christians, do I need to tell you this is not right? Are we going to follow Jesus or not?

Actually, there was one group that Jesus seemed to discriminate against. The rich. He once said it was harder for a hump-backed camel to wiggle through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to earn their way into the kingdom of God. He also was politically incorrect when he called a farmer who built a bigger barn a fool. Now I realize there are a lot of farmers, as well as machinists, teachers, assembly line workers, truck drivers and those who have been laid off who wish their “barn” was a little bigger. There are real reasons for the “older white male anger” that is fueling political desperation.

Regardless of his concern for the rich, Jesus had a soft spot for the poor. He ministered to them wherever he went, and announced to all who would listen that poor folks were especially blessed in the kingdom of God. Jesus spent his ministry breaking down barriers that divide and inviting those on the margins of society into his inner circle. Wonder what he thinks about those today who would build up walls of separation, or even pass laws that allow millionaires and billionaires to zip through paying taxes while welfare moms can’t buy food for their kids. I guess we shouldn’t forget that when we feed the poor, we are really feeding Jesus.

Jesus wasn’t big into killing people. In fact, the most violent act he himself did was to send a bunch of pigs (not people) running off a cliff into the sea. Once his disciple Peter pulled out a knife and sliced off the ear of an enemy coming to capture Jesus. The Lord told him to stop it, and then picked up the missing ear and put it back on, healing the man. All of this sounds rather boring compared to what we can see nightly on television. It’s a far cry from the calls we hear to kill our enemies wholesale, families and all. Both presidential candidates seem to advocate this, one by boldly declaring that’s what he would do (maybe in a 3 am tweet), the other by her intentions to wage war (legally, of course) to bring peace to the middle east.

The truth is (hard as it is for us to hear, much less practice), Jesus told us to love our enemies. If he got mad and fussed at Peter for hacking an ear off, I wonder what he would say to us? Hopefully, it would be more in tune with his prayer from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Shocking news about Jesus does exist. It’s true that he was a radical, a subversive, and he called for those who would be with him to take his vision seriously. He talked constantly about a promised land, a nation far greater than anything the USA has ever been or ever hopes to become in the future — no matter who becomes president. Jesus says in fact his place is where we really belong if we follow him. This place, the Kingdom of God, is not just a destination for us in the future, but a vital, living world we can experience and contribute to right now. Jesus calls us to trust him for our salvation, follow him in the way we live out his good news, and to thrive in a realm way better than anything this old earth can provide.

Meanwhile, we have an extremely important election going on. Christians, we have the responsibility of dual citizenship when we vote Tuesday. We are temporary citizens of a truly remarkable and wonderful nation, but our allegiance is eternally first to the Kingdom of God. As you go to the poles I pray you’ll be guided by God’s Holy Spirit as you vote in the living presence of the Lamb.